Driving Blind: Liberal Imperialism Was so Much Cooler in the 80s

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Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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26 Responses

  1. Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark
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    says:

    Ethan –

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this new feature of yours: it has improved the quality of my reading, and many of these things I would not otherwise have found. So, thanks.

    And take it from someone who lived through the 70s and 80s. The 1980s weren’t all that.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark
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      says:

      As someone who managed to make it through the ’60’s, ’70’s, and 80’s, I completely agree. They weren’t all that.

      As a sort-of fashion designer watching how fashion playlists on repeat, I live in dread of big hair and shoulder pads. Serious dread. I’d rather wear dreads. Or tie-dye. Or dress like Jackie O.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic
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        says:

        I keep thinking that we’ve finally achieved “we won’t look at our pictures in the future and snort” equilibrium and I visit my friends and the boys all have fauxhawks.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          We’ve only begun the ‘looking at our pictures in the future” era; we had it easy. Now, every bad haircut is lovingly curated on FaceBook for a child. Every Bad Moment ever in the child’s life will follow them through their life, leaving them no opportunity to reinvent themselves.Report

  2. Avatar Chris
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    says:

    Alf justifies the 80s.

    Unfortunately, Bon Jovi and Phil Collins cancel Alf out.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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      says:

      I can feel it coming in the air tonight!Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        I air drum to that song like everyone else, but this? The horror. The horror.

        I can remember the Monday, probably in 1987, when half of the girls in my middle school showed up with Bon Jovi t-shirts, basically a white shirt with a big picture of Jon Bon Jovi’s face, from their concert the previous weekend. This is the 80s decade that Ethan feels a sort of historical nostalgia for. And we haven’t even mentioned New Kids on the Block.

        On the other hand, after remembering such traumatic events from my childhood, I watch this, and everything feels OK again. Especially at the moment when he finally wins over the dude with the baseball cap and sunglasses. I can’t see him nod without dying laughing.Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        When that song was popular, I was engaged in a doomed romance with someone who would never work out. Somehow, whenever I hear that song, it evokes the sense of being drawn into emotional doom: a two-edged magnetic compulsion / destruction siren song.

        At this point, I have no idea how I would have emotionally responded to that song had I not been in that relationship. But I think that it would have found some way to resonate with me because it’s so evocative and musically compelling.Report

  3. Avatar Roger
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    says:

    From Derek’s second article…

    “Cheap prices and cheap workers—that is our vicious cycle, and the ultimate American shopping bargain. We are getting exactly what we pay for.”

    Such is the short term vision of 250 years of economic progress. We see nothing but destruction, but somehow the average worldwide standard of living of six times as many people is one or two factors of ten higher. Somehow we actually get EVEN MORE of what we pay for.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Roger
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      says:

      Roger, sometimes I swear you are like a broken record. Did you actually read the sentences you quoted? Is it untrue? Could you speak to it? Or do you see it as so potentially damaging that your instinct is to defend the market system itself, rather than these specific consequence of it, that you can’t help but fall back on a basic defense of the market system? Because it seems to me that if the market system is worth defending, you would be able to address this particularly consequence and say, “Yes, this is a problem. Let’s see if my preferred system can find a way to fix it.” In other words, I think the only potentially damning indictment of the market system is that you don’t seem to think there’s a solution, and recognizing this, you fall back to a basic defense of that system that ignores the problem by misdirection: “Look over here at all the good we’ve done? Pay no attention to the sweatshop workers behind the curtain.”Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        And cutting off your broken record response preemptively, I will stipulate that the people who work extremely long hours for extremely low wages under extremely poor and often extremely dangerous conditions, with high levels of managerial manipulation and coercion, so that Americans and Europeans can pay a few bucks less for t-shirts and sneakers, are better off than if they and their families were starving in the streets, foraging for food and materials in garbage dumps.

        To me, even stipulating this, we still have a problem in that there are still people who work extremely long hours for extremely low wages under extremely poor and often extremely dangerous conditions, with high levels of managerial manipulation and coercion, so that Americans and Europeans can pay a few bucks less for t-shirts and sneakers. Working within your system, what can we do to make this better as quickly as possible?

        If you don’t think this is a problem, then you and I have fundamentally different moral systems, and we have nothing to discuss. If you do not think there is a solution other than to wait for the decades-long process of economic improvement through the market in the countries where the economic situation for the lowest of the low is so bad that they feel like this situation is better than any available alternatives, then I think your system, for all the good it has done, is ultimately a failure, and needs to be replaced.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris
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          says:

          “…we still have a problem in that there are still people who work extremely long hours for extremely low wages under extremely poor and often extremely dangerous conditions,… so that Americans and Europeans can pay a few bucks less for t-shirts and sneakers.”

          What you have done here, Chris, is unfairly minimized and demonized consumerism. The sweatshop worker may or may not be producing something which you value. This is a diversionary rhetorical device. The point is that the sweatshop worker is given an opportunity to solve consumer problems, as defined by the consumer. The sweatshop employee gains, the factory owner gains, the company selling baby bottles gains, Walmart gains, and the consumer gains. The victim of the creative destruction is the guy who used to make baby bottles less efficiently and his factory owner as they are both replaced. Overall economists can show that net utility is created. Prosperity is increased.

          The sweatshop worker is only helped. They are one of the winners, and my guess is that as employees (or prospective employees of still looking for a job) they very much want Americans to buy more iPhones and shoes and shirts and baby bottles.

          What I do not understand is why you project the horrors of entropy (life is hard) upon free markets. Yes people in Bangladesh will starve if they cannot create enough value for themselves or (via exchange) others. This is the human condition. Markets just create the opportunity to free ourselves from this horror by the possibility of specialization, comparative advantage, and exchange.

          Isn’t it terrible that we would all quickly die unless we constantly solve problems for ourselves and others? Hell yeah.

          Isn’t it great that via global markets, unskilled laborers can begin the long slow climb out of the ten thousand year sentence of destitution, illiteracy and sickness.? Hell yeah.

          And yes, more people worldwide emerged out of poverty and severe destitution in the last decade than in any other era in the history of… History. A billion people were helped by what you condemn.

          ” Working within your system, what can we do to make this better as quickly as possible?”

          1) Order more tee shirts, shoes, baby bottles and iPhones and demand that they come from countries with the least advantaged (aka lots of sweatshops)
          2) Condemn anyone with an overly soft heart that speaks out against global markets and the benefits of employing the unskilled at market rates. They are harming those they pretend to help.
          3) Give to a charity of your choice, as long as you can be sure the money actually goes to the impoverished.
          4) Promote free enterprise, science and human progress.
          5). Promote good governance in disadvantaged areas

          ” If you do not think there is a solution other than to wait for the decades-long process of economic improvement through the market in the countries where the economic situation for the lowest of the low is so bad that they feel like this situation is better than any available alternatives, then I think your system, for all the good it has done, is ultimately a failure, and needs to be replaced.”

          The system that raised more people out of severe poverty in just the last decade than did every other system for nine thousand seven hundred and fifty years is your definition of failure? Let me just compliment your benevolent impatience.

          What else do you suggest?Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Roger
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            says:

            And if you see any news stories about people being maimed or killed by unsafe working conditions, try to get the reporter fired. He’s just going to lose the survivors their jobs.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Roger
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            says:

            You think it’s a feature, not a bug. We do have fundamentally different ethical world views.

            My suggestion to you specifically is to ponder this. The success of your system, which you use to defend it, is a result of that system being nearly universally accepted, so that all of the discussions that take place here or just about anywhere are about how to work within it to achieve better outcomes and mitigate its flaws.

            Maybe now, then, we’d do well to spend our time and energy thinking up a better way to do things, since from a practical standpoint, yours no longer needs defending. A gain can still be a bad thing, and sometimes “positive sum game” and evolutionary-like improvement over populations are not enough. People are suffering, perhaps unnecessarily, but nothing in your system seems to be able to say anything about that, other than “do you have any ideas?”

            My idea? It’s run its course. Time for a new system. And I know when you hear that you think I must mean a top-down system, but do you really think top-down and the market are the only two possibilities? If so, I can recommend some reading.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris
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              says:

              Well, I said it is a necessary feature, but that it acts as a bug too. I truly do not think that markets work absent creative destruction. Nope. You have to clear out the old, and that means getting people to change jobs, and it means capitalists losing money. I also think that eliminating too much risk makes the problem solving system less effective. “Too much” is of course pretty nebulous.

              I would argue that considering that the biggest gains fighting poverty have been over the last decade, and before that over the last few generations, that you are giving up way too soon. It’s still gaining momentum. A billion people out of poverty is nothing to dismiss.

              So, a trajectory of per capita human prosperity shows that the trend was flat for ten thousand years at about $3 or so. Around 1750 it started moving up in a few places, and now it continues to rise at a faster pace across a wider share of humanity. Now we have six times as many people living twice as long and earning ten to one hundred times moreover year than our ancestors. I would be very, very careful about jumping off this trajectory. At the current rate poor people will be richer than billionaires in a few centuries.

              Of course I am all for experimenting with new ideas. Please do recommend some reading. I am retired and have lots of time to read if the books are cheap enough (preferably printed by sweatshop laborers). Just kidding.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to Roger
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            says:

            “To me, even stipulating this, we still have a problem in that there are still people who work extremely long hours for extremely low wages under extremely poor and often extremely dangerous conditions, with high levels of managerial manipulation and coercion, so that Americans and Europeans can pay a few bucks less for t-shirts and sneakers. Working within your system, what can we do to make this better as quickly as possible?”

            I would’ve totally said, “Well, working within the system, leave your Hooters waitress a bigger tip!” That’s how I roll.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Thanks for the passionate and well argued rebuttal. Let me try just to address your initial comments. You and I both know we will never persuade the other, but I believe we can still both gain from the dialogue.

        I definitely agree that losing one’s job is a problem. Full stop. It was a problem when weavers, farmers and laborers lost jobs to machinery and workers in other places. It was a problem when secretaries lost jobs to word processors. It will also be a problem when retail employees continue to lose jobs to automated one step internet sales.

        However, this is how markets work. They constantly reward solving problems better for consumers. But the competition among producers is real. Any producer not producing as efficiently (per the consumer) is no longer chosen, and that means they are forced to do something else. This can be frightening and painful. Thus everyone legitimately comes to the rational conclusion that though free enterprise is good long term for human prosperity, it would be best, for me, to get an exception to this process of creative destruction.

        Creative destruction is a feature of markets. It serves to eliminate less efficient and effective uses of resources and people. Of course, many of these folks can move into more productive and efficient skills, industries, occupations or firms. But some can’t, and even a successful transition can be harrowing.

        Markets share a dynamic seen in evolutionary systems, though substantially less brutal. Species evolve in part due to the effects of natural selection. Individuals with some characteristics die or reproduce less often, leaving fewer grand children than those with other characteristics. The species evolves, though it does not necessarily progress. Markets work not via differential survival rates of people, but by differential survival and replication rates of ideas, including specifically the idea of what occupation a particular person is engaged in, how she does her job and which team she works with. When her job or skills or team are no longer chosen, she is strongly incentivized to change her behavior to add value to consumers another way.

        From a producer standpoint, markets, though less brutal than evolution, still sound pretty damn heartless. However, every producer is also a consumer. Indeed, the point of producing is consuming. Thus every producer effectively agreeing to the competitive rules of markets also gains by being the beneficiary.

        Can markets solve the problem of creative destruction? Fundamentally no — it is an essential feature. Certainly effective markets can minimize the trauma and risk of creative destruction. One example here is fluidity in hiring and firing. And fluidity in wages. And fluidity in occupational freedom. Oddly, many progressive policies work at cross currents to this fluidity. Another potential market solution is unemployment insurance. Another is mutual aid societies and philanthropy. There are also state run solutions to these issues, such as unemployment insurance, safety nets and education subsidies.

        I support any of the above if well run (except the previously mentioned progressive policies which gum up effective markets such as minimum wages, mandatory union membership, interference in hiring and firing, and mandates on benefits.)Report

        • Avatar LWA in reply to Roger
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          says:

          The central problem here is that you are arguing strictly from an utilityperspective, which is irrelevant to governance.

          What people (meaning non-libertarians) want from governance is not an increase in prosperity alone, but a just ordering of society and a flourishing of the human spirit.

          Economic conditions that violate these things are seen as unjust, even if you can make a good argument that they increase general prosperity.

          Its a bit like telling the Indians how much more prosperous they were under British rule.

          Maybe correct, but irrelevant.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to LWA
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            says:

            And I really thought I had a chance at convincing you, LWA. Damn.

            Seriously though, I actually do not disagree. People do want justice and the flourishing of human spirit. Where I disagree is that they all agree on what that looks like. Therefore I promote freedom and individual choice so that they can each pursue their own coordinated ordering based upon some simple but elegant rules. Mine isn’t injustice or disorder, but many justices and spontaneous or decentralized order.

            As a reminder, my theory of justice promotes people agreeing to impartial rules before the game starts. Personally I would build safety nets and judicious redistribution toward the less fortunate in my rules.Report

  4. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    Universal Basic Income Calculator via Rortybomb

    FWIW, this might be interesting to some since a UBI has been raised by some. I didn’t have a better place to throw this and i didn’t to forget about it. Might be worth a post by someone so inclined.

    http://www.nextnewdeal.net/rortybomb/beta-universal-basic-income-calculatorReport

    • Avatar Roger in reply to greginak
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      says:

      I don’t gravitate toward this idea. Seems like it could be used to discourage work with unskilled people and those with shorter time horizons and other sources of support. I fear it would be bad for their self respect and soul.

      On the other hand I could support a system which provided this as a temporary form of self insurance against hard times. I am not sure how the details would work.Report

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